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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

The portmanteau Brexit was coined in the lead up to the 2016 referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. The issue, central to contemporary British politics, is politically interesting in that support for or against Brexit does not so much correspond to “a divide between left and right” as much as “a deepening divide between cosmopolitans and patriots” (Wheatley 2019), better known as ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’. We present an analysis of variation in the pronunciation of Brexit, where one variant has a word-medial voiceless stop-fricative cluster, and the other a voiced cluster, and how that contrast has been ideologized as indexical of this political divide (cf. Hall 2017). We consider Twitter metacommentary, production data from televised sources, and perception data from a Matched Guise Test. In contrast to variables that are ideologized as political because they are loanwords (Hall-Lew et al. 2010, 2012), or because of an existing indexical order within a regional dialect (Hall-Lew et al. 2017), we find that variation in Brexit is ideologized by virtue of the political issue, itself. In other words, we find no evidence from production that variation in Brexit patterns with political ideology, identity, or stance (Zhang 2019), and we find no evidence from perception that variation in Brexit is reliably associated with any political meanings (Shen 2019). Rather, the rich indexical field attributed to the marked variant in metalinguistic Twitter discourse appears to arise from the indexical potential of the phonetic markedness, itself, in combination with a highly divisive social issue.

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